Interviews / August 16, 2012

Connie Bennett

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Back in 1998, she was besieged by dozens of seemingly unrelated ailments, including ferocious headaches, excessive fatigue, unsettling “brain fog,” scary heart palpitations and unpredictable mood swings. She was finally diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia (“low blood sugar”) and after turning her back on all those sweets and fast-acting carbs, every single one of her maladies disappeared. Restored to good health and humor, the former sugar addict and experienced journalist became determined to get to the bottom of the sugar story, devoted to helping people break free from their sugar habits so that they, too, can lead, happy, healthy lives.

Her bestselling book, Sugar Shock! has been featured in TIME, Woman’s World, Women’s Health, the Chicago Tribune and many other publications and websites. Connie has contributed to many media outlets such as AOL News, and and hosts three blogs, Sugar Shock! Blog, Write A Book Before You Die, and Gab With The Gurus Blog, as well as blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Connie is a sought-after speaker, TV and radio guest, who has appeared on Oprah & Friends Radio, CBS News Sunday Morning, The Howard Stern Show and many others. She also hosts Gab with the Gurus radio show where she interviews top experts in a variety of fields.

Connie is now completing her next book, Candies & Cookies Can’t Give You What You Really Want — 6 Weeks to Sweetness & Sugar Freedom (Working Title).

Name: Connie Bennett, C.H.H.C.

Location: New York

Diet Detective: So, tell us, what exactly is sugar shock?

Connie: “Sugar shock” is a health-destroying, mood-damaging, confusion-creating constellation of symptoms that strikes millions of people worldwide who often consume processed sweets (such as soda, “fruit” drinks, cookies, candies, sorbet, etc.), as well as fast-acting, much-like-sugar carbs or “culprit carbs” (such as white bread, white rice, bagels, white pasta, etc.). If you repeatedly over-consume these sweets and quickie carbs — something the average American and the typical person living in an industrialized nation do — you wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels, which over- stimulates insulin release and triggers inflammation. This can lead to more than 150 health problems, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, severe PMS, failing memory, mental confusion, sexual dysfunction, infertility, wrinkles, acne and early aging. Sugar shock also describes the much-maligned, often-misdiagnosed condition of reactive hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, as well as other blood sugar disorders, from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes. In addition, victims of sugar shock may experience depression, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, blurred vision, crying spells, forgetfulness, nightmares, temper out-bursts and even suicidal thoughts. The list just goes on and on!

Diet Detective: How did you learn about sugar shock?

Connie: Back in 1998, I was in sugar shock myself — only I didn’t know it. I was beset by many strange ailments. I would get inexplicably tired and wiped out, and even eight hours of sleep didn’t help. Horrible headaches would hit me that no amount of aspirin relieved. Every so often, out of the blue, my heart would beat rapidly for minutes on end. For seemingly no reason, I’d start to cry or get moody. I’d quickly flip from euphoric to dejected. I was horribly hooked on red licorice, hard candies and chocolate-covered peanuts, which I relied on to give me quick sugar highs. But you wouldn’t have realized looking at me that I had a sugar problem, because I wasn’t overweight. You wouldn’t have known that I had all these health woes either. Anyhow, I found this smart, savvy doctor, who grilled me about my sugar habit. He told me I had reactive hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and ordered me to quit all those sweets and refined carbs that I loved so much. I followed his directions, and doing so changed my life.

Diet Detective: What shocked you the most while researching and writing your book?

Connie: I just can’t single out one thing that shocked me the most, because working on Sugar Shock! was a shocking experience. I was shocked to discover that sugar shock is an epidemic affecting about 74 million to 147 million Americans, if not more. I was shocked to find out that the average American consumes about 170 pounds of sugar a year or nearly a cup of sugar a day — a far cry from more than two centuries ago, in 1801, when the average American only consumed less than 1 tablespoon or 2.2 teaspoons of sugar a day. I was shocked when I uncovered a study which revealed that for the average American, three nutrient-poor foods — sweets and desserts, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages — make up almost 25 percent of the calories we consume. And I was even further shocked to read that the same study found that when you add such foods as pizza, potato chips, and hamburgers, junk food makes up nearly one-third of the calories the average American consumes daily.

Furthermore, I was shocked to learn from sugar expert Dr. Nancy Appleton that even three teaspoons of refined sugars can throw your body out of balance. I was shocked when I realized how much high fructose corn syrup is now used in packaged, bottled and canned foods. I was shocked upon discovering that sugar (from sugarcanes, beets or corn) are not the whole problem — concentrated fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup and agave also suppress your immune system and attack your body like a foreign invader. I was shocked that most people don’t realize their quickie-carb habit could hurt them in many profound, far-reaching, life-shortening ways. I was shocked that people think obesity is the only way sugar can affect them. I was shocked when I realized that the “low-fat” myth harmed people instead of helping them. I was shocked to see study after study from revered researchers, which linked eating too much sugar or high-glycemic carbs with so many different diseases and ailments. Because I’ve been so deeply shocked, I now feel driven to shock people to realization and action — they need to know that eliminating these “culprit carbs” could give them a new lease in life and possibly extend it, too.

Diet Detective: What do you think are some of the biggest benefits you can gain from kicking or scaling back on sweets and fast-acting carbs?

Connie: You can actually feel reborn! I’m not kidding, that’s what happened to me. If you kick or at least drastically cut back on sugary foods and quickie carbs, you automatically have more energy. Your attention improves, which results in more efficient work performance. You could get rid of horrible headaches and easily peel off pounds. You could become calmer and experience more level moods, which means you could become happier. And you may be able to get along better with loved ones. If you’re a female, you could greatly diminish your PMS. Or you could possibly resolve fertility or menopause issues. Your skin could become clearer and suppler. You could increase stamina when working out in the gym or the bedroom! You could get more zest, vitality, enthusiasm, optimism and joie de vivre. You may even like yourself better!

Diet Detective: What are some of the hidden culprits and sweet deceivers — products that have sugar in them that we don’t realize?

Connie: Put it this way: I challenge you to find foods in packages, jars or cans that don’t have sugar in them! You’ll find hidden sugars, mostly high fructose corn syrup, in most breads, crackers, salad dressings, tomato sauces, yogurts, cereals, many nut butters, etc. By the way, you can find some packaged foods that don’t contain any sugar — I spent months putting together such a list, which you can find on my website.

Diet Detective: Was there a defining moment in your life when you made a decision that changed the course of the rest of your life forever?

Connie: When I kicked sugar and culprit carbs out of my diet in 1998.

Diet Detective: What’s the most bodacious chance you’ve ever taken?

Connie: When I decided to put my freelance writing career on hold and totally focus on researching and writing my labor-intensive book, Sugar Shock!. It was quite a challenging process that ultimately took six years — I began the book in earnest in late 2001, and it was first published in early 2007. I interviewed and connected with some 250 or so researchers, doctors, nutritionists, food industry insiders and public health advocates, as well as thousands of self-described “sugar addicts” worldwide. In addition, a team of researchers helped me pour over thousands of research studies. While writing my book, I also started my online KickSugar support group, helped people kick their habit and began my Sugar Shock Blog.

Diet Detective: What keeps you going (your motivation)?

Connie: Hope, my vision for the future, and my deep desire to help millions of people around the world. My heartfelt intention to reach and help millions not only keeps me going, but it gets me charged up, excited, motivated and inspired. I really want to save lives and help people experience a complete turn-around, as my physician, Dr. Keith DeOrio, and Roberta Ruggiero, founder of the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation, did for me.

Diet Detective: What’s the first thing that you recommend to do if you want to kick the sugar habit?

Connie: I believe that the best way to start is to first embark upon what I call “Sugary Soul Searching.” By that I mean take a probing look at the role that sweets play in your life. Learn what personal, professional, and emotional situations trigger you. Then, explore how you react, both emotionally and physically, within minutes, hours, and days after indulging. How do you feel after eating those culprit carbs? For example, do you get wired, tired, moody, cranky, argumentative, irrational, headachy, anxious or depressed? By identifying your patterns and zeroing in on the root of the cause you stand a better chance of breaking your old eating habits, and learn that sugary, refined carbs are simply not worth it!

Diet Detective: What are some tips and techniques to help people kick sugar and stay on track?

Connie: Oh goodness, I have lots of simple secrets and strategies. In fact, in my book Sugar Shock! I give more than two dozen sugar-free success secrets and strategies. Here are three:

  1. Create a powerful mantra. When cookie cravings strike, inwardly and emphatically repeat a meaningful mantra to squash the temptation. You could try saying, “I only desire healthy foods”, or, “I’m now a perfect size 8” or even, “I am stronger than that cookie.”
  2. Get inspired daily. When you’re feeling weak on will power or in dire need of a dose of inspiration, just pick up a helpful, encouraging book. For instance, when I was kicking sugar, I got recharged by turning to As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy and You Can If You Think You Can by Norman Vincent Peale. Of course, if you’re religious, you may want to rely on The Bible. In addition, I recommend that people check out the movie and book, The Secret.
  3. Just delay doing anything. In other words, indulge in what I call “creative procrastination.” Say you pass by a donut store or bakery and the smell wafts through the air and you want one now! First, dispassionately own up to your feeling. Think, “Oh, I want a donut or sweet roll. OK. That’s interesting.” Now don’t put any judgment on that feeling. Then simply challenge yourself not to act on your dessert desire right away. Maybe later, but not immediately. Then delay — do not cave into your cravings for about 10 to 15 minutes. This is when you should inwardly be doing your mantra. That’s the first of my “Six D’s.” Also, you can read my article about the power of delaying, as well as other pieces I’ve written that offer other tips and tactics to stomp out sugar shock.

Diet Detective: What dessert do you dream about?

Connie: Actually, I don’t dream about sugar-filled desserts anymore! Back in 1998, when I was still “hooked” on sugary foods or sickeningly sweet treats, I would always dream of dessert! Now, traditional desserts have simply lost their allure. People marvel at my alleged will power — but it’s not really that. It’s more that my taste buds have evolved over the years. Fresh, wholesome, organic foods are what entice me now. Thus, sometimes for dessert I desire (but not dream about) fruit. It’s tasty, juicy, and succulent — give me organic strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or apples, and I’m set!

Diet Detective: What do you think is the most important thing that makes or breaks a diet for someone?

Connie: Do I have to choose just one? Ok, I pick apples. I absolutely love red delicious and Fuji apples.

Diet Detective:What’s your favorite healthy meal to prepare?

Connie: Your attitude and state of mind. Successful dieting, I believe, begins in our minds. If there is a wavering, waffling attitude of, “Well, I just don’t know if I can lose all this weight; it’s so hard,” then you’re setting yourself up for failure, or at least for a really tough, challenging time. But if you maintain an attitude of success and firmly believe in your heart of hearts, “I absolutely know, without a shadow of doubt, that I will definitely lose those 10 pounds,” then you will do it! Better yet, visualize yourself as already slim, trim, happy and healthy. In other words, see yourself free. This is a strategy that I talk about in my Sugar Shock!.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy meal to prepare?

Connie: It’s fun for me to take some kind of organic veggie like zucchini or kale (which I get straight from the farmer through my CSA or community-supported agriculture program). Then I sauté it in organic, extra virgin olive oil or maybe macadamia nut oil. Afterwards, I sprinkle on some organic dill weed or another herb and maybe even some kind of sea seasoning such as nori or dulse. I might even add some sautéed sesame seeds, or possibly a few sliced almonds. Next, I’ll cook a modest portion of an organic protein such as farm-raised chicken, organic chicken hot dogs, organic eggs or mercury-free salmon from a company called Vital Choice. Possibly, I’ll add some kind of grain like brown rice or quinoa. And then for dessert, I’ll have something like organic strawberries.

Diet Detective: What’s the best book about health that you’ve read?

Connie: You want me to name just one? Yikes! There are so many fabulous books out there. I like Fatland by Greg Critser, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, books by Dr. Andrew Weil, books by you, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Food Politics by Marion Nestle, and Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David. Oh, and I guess I have to say that I love my book Sugar Shock!! It’s one of the best books out there!

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Connie: It’s tough to pinpoint just one perfect food — there are so many awesome, nutritious, vitamin-rich foods to enjoy!

Diet Detective: What physical activity do you do to keep yourself in shape?

Connie: I enjoy bicycling along a river or in a park in Manhattan, speed walking for miles and miles, going to the gym (to work out on the elliptical trainer, treadmill and other machines, as well as using weights and doing other resistance training), playing tennis, dancing, and skiing in the winter. In addition, I’ve been thinking about taking up roller blading or roller skating.

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress/relax/center your mind? Do you participate in an organized relaxation activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi?

Connie I meditate, and I often do so while listening to mindfulness meditation CDs from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s simply amazing how smoothly things go on days that I meditate. Also, I’m very interested in getting into yoga. Lately, I keep running into people who rave about its miraculous powers. Now that I’m not working so many hours researching and writing, I’m going to try yoga classes at a couple of studios.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Connie: Use sea salt, sesame seeds, plenty of herbs and spices, and high-quality olive oil. These additions will help make your foods extra tasty.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Food Bargain?

Connie: Being a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture program) is probably my best food bargain. That and going to farmer’s markets. You can get lots and lots of organic produce for really fabulous prices. And what’s so wonderful is that you’re getting the food straight from the farmer so you’re also contributing to the local economy and helping a farmer near you.

Diet Detective: Define and discuss failure.

Connie: Failure is when you don’t even try to tackle something, or when you do try for something but expect the worst. Needless to say, if you expect the worst, that’s what you’re going to get! Failure is also when you try something, and when things don’t work out as you’d hoped, you give up really quickly rather than trying to tackle the problem from a different angle.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Connie: Probably in college when I worked at a fast-food restaurant, where we served greasy French fries and onion rings straight out of a disgusting vat full of awful fat, and burgers that had who-knows-what in them. Obviously, at the time, I wasn’t into eating healthily!

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite saying?

Connie: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” It’s by W. Clement Stone. Love that phrase. By the way, I’m really into affirmations and inspirational messages. So much so that I posted a bunch of them on my website.

Diet Detective:I actually love that phrase too. So, what’s the next major item on your “to-do” list?

Connie: To buy a new bell for my bike so I can alert pedestrians and other bicyclists that I’m about to overtake them. Once that is accomplished, I’ll go for a long, rigorous bike ride outdoors by the river.

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